Thursday, July 30, 2015


Tabitha woke me at 1:30am Monday. She said, “I don’t want you to be alarmed…” Which is absolutely not how anyone wants to be awoken! So I was alarmed.
Tabitha continued, “There’re police outside our house. Yellow tape’s stretched across the street, starting at our fence. And there’s a dead body on the sidewalk at the corner.” Now, I understood her words.

The Star Tribune has details. As far as I know currently, several people in two cars got into an argument, which escalated to a point they felt it appropriate to exchange gunfire in my residential neighborhood. The cars sped away.

Waking up my neighbor, whose house on the corner shelters two smart, pleasant pre-teen girls. One person, who was shot, got away with non-lethal injuries. Another’s corpse lay on the concrete at the stop sign I drive by daily; in front of a home whose front yard is a jungle of wildflowers and perennials, with which the kind owners spend hours every weekend, tending into a billowing mass of verdant beauty. I left for work this morning as firefighters were washing blood off those flowers.

What may surprise you, however, is that I don’t feel suddenly unsafe. Indeed, I stared at that dead body with neighbors for awhile; annoyed, rattled, but also horrified at myself that I wasn’t disgusted. I think I’ve been growing callous to my neighborhood’s violence and crime, which may help me get by. But I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel holy. I told that to a preacher friend, who responded, “I think the balance that we strike between horror and callousness is the balance between holy and human.” Amen.

Another reason I don’t feel more unsafe now is my wife’s a statistics and policy guru, who taught me, years back, that violent crime usually occurs in patterns, i.e. predictably. Thus, when a stranger invaded the home in my neighborhood earlier this month, and killed the owner, the story exemplified what many fear when they hear “North Minneapolis.” But it’s a huge exception to the rule. Most gun violence is very different.

The #1 cause of gun deaths, after all, is suicide, not accidents or murder. And when homicide does occur, it almost always includes several of the following factors- a) domestic violence, b) gun ownership, c) involvement in crime, d) substance abuse, e) other-stuff-Tabitha-remembers-but-I-can’t. In other words, because my wife doesn’t beat me, I don’t own a gun, I’m not a criminal, nor do I hang out with any, or have a cocaine problem, my risks for violent death are way low. And studies show that my higher-crime neighborhood barely factors in.

Which isn’t to say all gun owners put their families in danger (unless they’re storing ammo with their weapons, or not using good safes...), or anyone who smokes pot, or who’s ever been convicted. It’s simply observing that the risks of violence rise when these factors combine with poverty, anger, systemic racism or plain ole sin.
That doesn’t make what happened last night okay or understandable. It just describes my staid reaction. I’m unsatisfied, though, with that reaction. It feels smug. Like I’m unfairly distancing myself from folk whose lives are more threatened. And that’s not okay, for me to say, “Well, as a middle class, law-abiding white guy, I wish those people would get it together!” “Those people” are my neighbors, and more important, God’s children. So whatever causes these enduring patterns of violence shouldn’t be ignored, or blamed on folk whose lives I don’t fully understand, whose values I’ve never been forced to adopt. I know many have preferred “solutions” to ending those patterns- from banning handguns to universal open carry- and I can’t say which I think you should support. I don’t even know which I think are best! But I don’t believe our status quo works. I was horrified enough by that corpse to admit that.

Nor do I believe we followers of the Prince of Peace should accept violence as “the way things are” without a sustained prayer that things won’t be that way forever. May we accept a role in changing things. May that dead man’s family finds healing.

Grace and Peace,
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